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Published: Saturday 14 November, 2015

A new wave in ocean study From the travels of flotsam and jetsam He hears from people who find strange things washed to shore, from Cracker Jack prizes to pianos. He runs experiments to see whether a rubber ducky will crack when drifting in icy waters (no) and whether a full can of beer will float (yes, barely). He notes how many objects wash up, and where; their serial numbers; their species; their dimensions; and whether they wear an encrustation of barnacles. All this goes into Beachcombers' Alert!, a newsletter that serves as a clearinghouse for information on ocean drifters from exotic tropical seeds to abandoned yachts and the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles. Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer with Evans Hamilton Inc. "Scientists think it's too silly," Ebbesmeyer says. "For a scientist sitting in an office, Puma EvoPOWER 2.0 it's usually an irritant when a beachcomber calls." But he thinks they have a lot to offer each other. Based on tips from beachcombers, oceanographers can track the drift of thousands of objects around the oceans information they can use to fine tune their models of how the currents flow, among other things. These currents are important not only for navigation but also for plotting the trajectories of oil spills and understanding the life of the ocean the spread of fish larvae, the drift of plankton and the paths that salmon take to the streams of their birth. Ebbesmeyer estimates that 1,000 cargo containers plop into the sea from ships every year just part of a growing burden of debris in the world's oceans. It tends to collect in hot spots where prominent currents come to shore. Oregon, Washington and southern British Columbia get the North Pacific drift from Japan. Florida collects the fruits of the Gulf Stream. "The whole issue of how long things can swirl around the ocean really isn't answered," Ebbes meyer says. "The whole idea of how things beach is virtually unexplored." For their part, beachcombers can get help identifying their finds and taste the excitement of research. "It's nice to think my hobby is able to advance the cause of science a bit," says Steven McLeod, a 53 year old artist who spent part of his childhood combing the beach in northern California. McLeod inadvertently helped to start the Beachcombers' Alert! network in 1991 when he noticed that Nike sneakers and hiking boots and Etonic golf shoes were washing up near his home in Cannon Beach, Ore. "They were brand new," he recalls. "I mean, they didn't have any wear on them. .

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I thought something must be going on." He started hearing about people finding 40 or 80 or 100 shoes on beaches from Northern California to the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. He organized a series of swap meets in which people matched about 500 pairs of shoes all wearable, after some scrubbing, despite their months adrift. Intrigued by the shoe bonanza, Ebb esmeyer traced the source of the spill to the North Korean container ship Hansa Carrier, which ran into a severe storm in the North Pacific on May 27, 1990, and lost 21 cargo containers. Among the lost cargo: 80,000 shoes. Ebbesmeyer called a friend and collaborator, oceanographer W. James Ingraham Jr. of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle, who uses a computer model to simulate Pacific currents. Given the time and location of the spill, Ebbesmeyer asked, where would the shoes likely wash up? Ingraham ran the model '' and came up with a simulated path that ended just north of the actual landing sites. The two wrote up their findings in Eos, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. At the time of the report in August 1992, a few shoes had been found on Hawaii's Big Island, having ridden the California current southward and then west. The researchers predicted that some of the shoes would turn up in Japan and other parts of Asia if they survived. The scientists and the beachcombers stayed in touch. It wasn't lTC long until the next big spill 29,000 plastic bathtub toys that washed overboard Jan. 10, 1992, in the North Pacific. There were yellow ducks, blue turtles, Puma Football Boots red beavers and green frogs, each in a plastic housing glued to a piece of cardboard. The researchers bought identical toys from a store and submerged them in a bucket of seawater to see how long the packages would hold together. The glue softened within a day, setting the plastic animals free.

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